Yogurt, packed with protein, probiotics and calcium, is a nutritious food, and there is some evidence that it may boost the immune system and help digestion. However, at the supermarket, I see a dizzying array of products: low-fat, no-fat, Greek, Skyr, labneh. What to buy?
Yogurt is simply milk that has been fermented using a bacterial culture, giving it that familiar sour taste. But not all are created equal. Full-fat plain yogurt has a thinner texture because not all the whey has been removed. It is best for salad dressings, marinades and baking.
Skyr is an soft Icelandic cheese made with rennet which has the taste and texture of yogurt. Icelanders have eaten skyr since the Middle Ages and often credit it with their good health. It is strained four times to get its thick, rich consistency, and is mostly made with skim milk, making it fat-free. Skyr is made like a traditional Greek yogurt, but it is by far the creamiest, best-tasting, no-fat, preservative-free option. It is less tart than the Greek version, too. I mix it with fruit, use it to add creaminess to soups and make dips with it. Do not, however, use it in baking; it changes the texture of scones and cakes.
Greek yogurt has had much of the whey removed so it is creamy and thick. It is higher in protein and has less sugar than regular yogurt, which may account for its popularity. It is available with different fat percentages and is often fruit flavoured. It’s healthiest to flavour plain Greek yogurt or Skyr yourself because many of the store-bought fruit-filled options contain additives and sweeteners. Read the labels before buying.
Labneh, made by straining yogurt, is sometimes called yogurt cheese because of its thickness. It is found in many Middle Eastern dishes and dips. To make your own, add about ½ teaspoon of salt to a carton of full-fat Greek yogurt. Place it in cheesecloth and let it drip over a bowl overnight. Not quite authentic, but a good substitute. It is very thick and can be substituted for a soft cream cheese. It is also delicious served Middle Eastern-style, spread on a plate, and sprinkled with zaatar or herbs such as fresh mint or cilantro. Pool a little good-quality extra-virgin olive oil in the centre and serve with warm pita and vegetables.
Yogurt can also be made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, which is helpful for those with lactose intolerance.
When it comes to purchasing and preparing, I never buy low-fat yogurt as it often has additives. I would rather eat less of the high-fat variety and feel more satisfied. This is another benefit of skyr, which is naturally low in fat.
Cooking with yogurt has some rules. Don’t boil it as it will curdle. Beat it into a soup to add extra creaminess, but do not bring back to the boil. Skyr works well for this as it holds together better.
When a cake or biscuit calls for yogurt, use regular – both Greek and Skyr are too thick and will change the texture.
The best substitute for yogurt is sour cream mixed with a few drops of lemon juice. You can also water down plain, regular yogurt to make a decent buttermilk substitute. Whisk about 2 tablespoons of yogurt with ½ cup water for the best texture.
Click here to see my recipe for Lemon Cake with Yogurt.